This morning, I watched a Mormon Channel video --one from their "Hope Works" video series. It was called "Seeing Green" by Jill Thomas. Here's the link. I would encourage you to go watch it, if not just for the sake of doing so, but because what I write next will have greater meaning to you if you've watched it. But if you don't want to take the time, the sum-up is this: in order to understand Green, we need to live first in Blue, and then in Yellow. Then we can live in Green.
When she described how she could live inside the paradox of Blue and Yellow (and that the paradox was exactly what was needed for growth), it was like a light bulb went off in my brain. Actually, it was less like a light bulb and more like a candle flickering to life. What she learned in her deepest grief was so similar to what I have learned in my mental illness (Depression), that I was stunned. I've been pondering on it all day...
Up until we moved to Concord, California in March of 2007, I was ignoring all the signs of my depression. I figured I would be fine. My faith could get me through. My blog would get me through. My friends would get me through. My husband would get me through. Through what? The pain, the loneliness, the self-loathing, the despair that I was imperfect and weak... But I was really just fooling myself and trying to take an easy way out of something that has no easy out. I didn't want to admit I needed help. I was capable and strong! I didn't need medication or therapy --only weirdos had to use that. I didn't need anything but some strong will.
I gave birth to our fourth child 3 1/2 weeks before we moved to Concord. The whirlwind of moving out of state with four young children didn't allow me time to face my demons, but when the dust settled in California, I found myself overwhelmed with despair.
I couldn't figure out what was going on at first. I knew it was most likely depression, but unlike past episodes, I wasn't coming out of this one. (If you read my blog from the years 2006-2008, you'll see a lot of humor, but a lot of pain.)
Thus commenced a long, long fight.
My depression manifested itself in a few different ways. Anger (yelling at the kids all the time, being overly critical of Brandon, complaining, gossiping, finding reasons to judge others), sadness (crying in the shower every day), and hopelessness (why am I feeling this way? Why won't it stop?). I also had a huge amount of shame surrounding me (of my own creation) that I received and then gave to others. The biggest manifestation was with my physical health, though. I had gained a significant amount of weight. I ate my feelings (I always have). When Brandon felt he had gained more weight than he wanted, himself, we decided to join Weight Watchers together. For a year, I took loads of vitamin and mineral supplements, lost 40 pounds, ate veggies like crazy, jogged/ran 3-4 miles every weekday morning (with a buddy), and then started doing circuit weight training. I spent a lot of time with friends, blogged my feelings, learned as much as I could, and clung to the gospel.
By the time we moved back to Utah, I was down 40 pounds, Brandon was down 50 pounds, I was doing really well mentally and emotionally, and life looked great. I threw myself into the things I loved; I was teaching, writing, and accepting random side jobs with companies I loved. Slowly, I stopped eating as healthy. I stopped running. I stopped the supplements. I became overwhelmed by the sheer reality of my life.
The next 4-5 years were up and down --I felt like a yo-yo. I was vegan, then I wasn't. I was in therapy, then I wasn't. I was on medication, then I wasn't. I walked 4 miles a day, then I didn't. I was working three jobs, and then I quit them all. I would be physically awesome (especially while pregnant with my sixth), but emotionally, a wreck. I would be mentally okay, but physically gross. I couldn't ever seem to be both physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy at the same time. I thought I was the greatest hypocrite of all time --I knew how to take care of myself, didn't I? I knew how to lose weight. I knew how to keep my mind healthy. Why couldn't I just do it? Why couldn't I just figure it out? So, I'd go back on medication. I'd try to exercise more. I would go back and forth on the green smoothies. Yo-yo.
After we moved to Pennsylvania, I hit an all-time low.
I gained at least 50 pounds. I was off my medication because I was terrified of going through the process of finding a new doctor (again). I was angry all the time. I would hide in my room watching movies while my kids just kind of fended for themselves. I went out of my way to leave the house as little as possible and have very few visitors over. I was absolutely depressed. I was living in a beautiful place that was a literal dream come true for me and there I was, incapable of enjoying any of it. I hid it pretty well, too.
|Part of our backyard in PA and the field beyond it.|
My MIL and my parents were very worried. Brandon was really worried. Finally, Brandon told me I needed help. Real help. So, with his support, I rallied myself enough to find a full-time psychiatrist and therapist. I got medication right away. I went to therapy weekly, then bi-weekly for 2 full years. I had another baby, and ended up dropping 35 pounds. I had priesthood blessings, and I still clung to the gospel. I started writing again more earnestly. I started doing things that brought me joy (like my music). By the time we moved to Kansas, I couldn't even recognize who I had been a few years earlier. I look at photos of that time, and I really can't remember that person very well...
And here I am, still going to therapy, still on medication, but better than I've ever been --ever. Hands down, ever. I say this needing to lose about 40-50 pounds. I say this with a body that is showing age, the effects of bearing and nursing 7 children, and a mind that is scarred from depression. I am not who I was. I feel this new awakening inside of me (like that flickering candle) that is taking over. I feel that Christ has taught me so much over the last decade, and every once in a while, whenever I allow Him to teach me (whenever I allow the Atonement to heal me), I get a glimpse of my eternal nature and my eternal purpose.
|Christmas Day 2016|
I tell you all this, dear reader, because I hope it may help someone to know that I'm not fully cured. I'm starting to realize I probably never will be "cured" in the societal sense of the word. Like the video I shared --I'm not ever going to be able to go back to Blue. Like the speaker, I always wanted to go back to Blue, though. Blue was happiness! Blue was normal! I wanted to be normal again. But I can't go back because now I've experienced Yellow. Yellow was so hard. Yellow was horribly sad, hopeless, painful, and difficult. Yellow was the place of learning, though. Yellow brought me knowledge! I can't stay there, however. Truthfully, what I've found is that I'm not living in Blue or Yellow, anymore.
I'm living in Green.
I'm living in Green because I recognize what it means to feel joy while feeling despair. I know what it's like to have things not go according to plan. I know the fear of not trusting your own brain or feelings. I know what it's like to lose spiritual gifts and the ability to feel the Holy Ghost. I know how it feels to believe suicide is the only answer. I know what it's like to remember happiness and also feel darkness. But I also know what it's like to feel real joy. I know the joy, because I've had the pain. I know the faith, because I've experienced the fear. I know the hope, because I have spent way too many days in hopelessness.
So, what does this mean for me right now? It means that whatever progress I make from here on out, I'm doing it with the knowledge of Yellow and the hope of Blue. For example, I have decided that because I am finally in a very emotionally and mentally healthy place (not completely --but as I said, I don't think I'll ever be completely healed), I can make choices that will bring me true joy, and not feel horrified (hopeless, worthless) when I do it clumsily, slowly, or half-way. So, I have chosen to:
1. Start teaching piano again, as well as put myself out there as an accompanist.
2. Begin practicing piano again with the purposeful intention of applying to a Master's program in music in a few years.
3. Start being more aware of my physical body --I have started yoga, again, and I'm tracking what I eat in an effort to notice patterns and shift things as necessary to bring about better health.
4. Notice what brings me joy and doing some of those things every day.
5. Deliberately invest time and energy into my full-time job (Wife and Mom: Homemaker) and refuse to be dragged down by the temptation to resent the mundane (or the lack of appreciation).
6. Write my thoughts and feelings; write essays, poetry, stories, books... whatever comes to me, without worry about judgment or success (or completion!).
7. Give myself to God in a meaningful way --devoting time to pray, read His word, listen to His prophets, think about Holy things, meditate (yoga helps with this), and simply continue doing all the things I have done up until now, which is basically my tried-and-true clinging to the gospel.
I will probably continue therapy and medication for as long as I need it. I may find other ways to cope, as well (I've found so many!). I will also be open about my struggles and setbacks; I won't cower when I fail. I'll just get up and try again.
|Sunrise last month|
Of course, not everything in my (nor your) life can be summed up into three separate colors. It's just a metaphor of how we are able to live inside the paradox of opposition. I could very well have used the metaphor of the hiking trail I wrote about here. Or the metaphor of the well, that I wrote about here. I could talk to you about faith, forgiveness, hope, energy healing, marriage, letting go, nutrition, education, shame, fear, pain, society, feminism, etc. and so forth and a million, billion, trillion other things that add up to life-learned and life-earned wisdom. But right now, I love the Green metaphor, because I can recognize truth in it; I can recognize myself in it.
And the cool part, dear reader, is that green really is my favorite color. 😄